Makers Monday- Stitching Eyes & Lips- Embroidery Portrait (Part 3)

Makers Monday by Holey Socks Art


Let’s take a little break from our story and celebrate that it’s Monday, shall we?  Mondays don’t have to be all bad.  In fact, today we get to continue our wonderful tutorial into the art of hand embroidery.  Yep. It’s gonna be great despite that last cheesy line.

Are you keeping up?


If you recall, we left off with completing the basic outline of the face along with some shading lines. In this next part we are going to concentrate on completing the eyes & lips of our portrait. I know that for some folks this part can intimidate them, but I’m going to help you make it really easy.  There are couple simple things we can do to set our eyes apart. Let me show you my secrets.


First off, I like to think about completing eyes in layers.  I tend to visualize them in a stack in this order (from the bottom up): Iris, Pupil, Lashes/Conjunctiva, Glint, Whites.  Really, the pupil and lashes are interchangeable as they are the same “layer”.

Now at first glance I’m sure it doesn’t make a ton of sense. I hope by the end of this tutorial it will. We will review each layer in detail and then you can see how they come together.




If you look closely at your eye you will see an endless sea of colors in a complex almost web-like design.  However, if you look at the eyes of the person in your picture you will see that this is greatly simplified. Not much of that complex color is seen in photos that aren’t a close up of the eye itself.

We will be using this to our advantage.  After all, we aren’t Cayce Zavaglia *swoon*!

What I like to do is use no more than 3 strands to complete the iris.  Our goal is to try and keep it rather flat so that it does not pop out too far from the surface and throw off the depth & perspective of the rest of the work.  Ideally, your lash line should look like it is forward from the eye and this is hard to do when you have made a thick iris and pupil that jut out from your fabric.

For my 2-3 strands I choose varying colors dependent upon the eye. Because the eye in the Dr Who photograph I’m working from is rather dark I chose to use 2 strands of the same dark brown and one strand of light brown for a total of 3 strands.  I then complete the eye in a satin type stitch twirling my thread now and again to “mix” the colors and prevent the area from looking too stripey. I then go back in and use a single strand of the darkest color and outline the iris to neaten it and add a realistic quality.  You will notice that in the photo of Lili above that her iris appears to have a darker blue edge.  You can see below how this one turned out.

*For smaller eyes I don’t generally bother with “mixing” colors. I work with one strand and very little of it is seen. 

Dr Who Embroidery Tutorial





The pupil of the eye is very straight forward. This is completed in black.  I generally work with only 2 strands so that I can easily manipulate the look without adding bulk.  You may choose to use a thimble to help guide your needle through if you find it difficult.




Now we come to the two parts of the eye that I feel like can make or break your piece.  How you complete the lash line will ground the eye in either fantasy or reality. The trick is to look at the photo.  What?! That’s your f*cking advice?!  I know, sounds whack, but hear me out. Many times when it comes to drawing (because essentially that is what we are doing) people tend to draw what they think an object looks like and not what it actually looks like. So the key isn’t to embroider what you think eye lashes look like, but what they really, truly look like in that photo.  Look at it.  Are there tons of individual lashes all long & well defined like in our close-up eye photo? Or are they more of a dark, solid line with just a few wisps here and there like in the photo of Lili?

Here is my interpretation:

You will also notice that I have added the conjunctiva (the pink lower lash line) and tear duct (inner corner of eye) to this, as well. This, my little dears, is one to the “tricks” to making your eyes look more realistic. Right now it seems to stand out and seem awkward, but have some faith, young Padawans.  The truth will be revealed to you in time.

Concerning the tear duct, you can use a basic satin stitch for this area, but personally I like to use a simple french knot. Tomato, tomato.  Hmm.. that doesn’t really work in type.




What I am referring to is the speck of light you see reflected off the iris. Depending on the source of light it may fall anywhere on the iris or pupil.  Follow your photo for this and don’t choose a spot willy-nilly.  You’ve already used your photo to add shadows; if you choose the wrong spot on the eye it will read as false. Trust me.  Again, I prefer to use a french knot. It’s quick and easy.  Just make sure to anchor your thread in your previous stitches on the backside before you start.

Dr Who Embroidery Tutorial




The whites of the eyes are one of those items that are negotiable. I added them here because I thought they really make the eyes pop and help the figure to read as more realistic without having to fill in a complete skin tone.  Now on the GHP I have chosen not to complete this step because it is already being done on a white fabric.  This portion is up to personal choice.

“Why now?” you might be wondering. Why didn’t we complete this step prior to adding the lash line and conjunctiva? Personal preference.  I prefer to see all other steps completed so I can decide if this portion is necessary or if I need to go into more detail and add shadows to the whites of the eyes.  If you look closely at the original photo of Dr Who you will notice that because his eyes are spherical, like a ball, they have light areas and dark areas.  As of right now, I think it translates well without going back in to add this shading near the tear duct, but as always I reserve the right to change my mind *wink*.

Portrait Embroidery Tutorial




I want to talk a bit more in detail about lips. You will notice that the examples I have shown you today are both of men.  Men have lips.  In the case of my husband (above) they may have juicy, full, kissable lips…  Anyway. That said, many people get nervous about completing lips because the fear that they can make a male face appear too feminine.  This is a reasonable concern.  When choosing the lip color I try to choose lighter tones of pink, rose or even a tan/flesh like color.  You want to make sure to stay away from tones that are too red.  Also, I prefer to outline the lips so that I can go back in and add single thread lines & cracks to make the lips more realistic. You will notice that I make sure to use a darker color for the middle lip line to show shadow.

For women, you have the option to do this or to fill in the lips and give them color and contrast using a long-short stitch.  This can be done very beautifully, but I caution you to work with a lower number of threads (say 3) or you may find the lips sticking cartoonishly off your fabric and giving your figure a clown like appearance.

*when working with smaller portraits I use a simple satin stitch and fill in the entire lip area. See Below

 And there you have it! We are finished with the face and ready to move onto the hair. I hope you will agree that the tear duct and conjunctiva blend in and don’t look so awkward now. Also, these lips are also very full for a man but blend in nicely with a natural appearance.

I will give you some time to finish this and we can continue where we left off in two weeks with a concentration on eyebrows and hair.

Dr Who Embroidery Tutorial- Holey Socks Art


Like last time, I video taped my progress.  Unfortunately I’m completely inept and some of the shot is cut off at various points and my camera would stop taping without any indication that it was full. Ugh. Should get better with the new GoPro.


See it in high speed.


As always, I love seeing your progress photos either via email (, Instagram (@holeysocksart) or Facebook (@holeysocksart).

Questions? Feel free to leave a comment below. You might not be the only one…